Signatures of Tropical Cyclone Intensification in Satellite Measurements of Ice and Liquid Water Content

Published in Monthly Weather Review, 2017

Wu Shun-Nan and Brian J Soden

This study examines how the structure and amount of cloud water content are associated with tropical cyclone (TC) intensity change using the CloudSat Tropical Cyclone (CSTC) dataset. Theoretical and modeling studies have demonstrated the importance of both the magnitude and vertical structure of latent heating in regulating TC intensity. However, the direct observations of the latent heat release and its vertical profile are scarce. The CSTC dataset provides the opportunity to infer the vertical profile of the latent heating from CloudSat retrievals of cloud ice water content (IWC) and liquid water content (LWC). It is found that strengthening storms have ~20% higher IWC than weakening storms, especially in the midtroposphere near the eyewall. These differences in IWC exist up to 24 h prior to an intensity change and are observed for all storm categories except major TCs. A similar analysis of satellite-observed rainfall rates indicates that strengthening storms have slightly higher rainfall rates 6 h prior to intensification. However, the rainfall signal is less robust than what is observed for IWC, and disappears for lead times greater than 6 h. Such precursors of TC intensity change provide observationally based metrics that may be useful in constraining model simulations of TC genesis and intensification.